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Hundreds of pro-Trump rioters today charged into the US Capitol, where Congress was set to certify Joe Biden’s presidency. Four people have reportedly died in relation to this protest, including a woman who was shot.
The riot marked a disturbing escalation in the willingness and ability for the far right to mobilise against liberal democratic institutions, inspired by baseless claims peddled by the president: that this has been a stolen, fraudulent election.
It culminates years of President Donald Trump’s incitement and endorsement of these groups. Recall his endorsement of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville (“there are very fine people on both sides”) and his refusal to condemn the Proud Boys (“stand back and stand by”). He even affirmed the Capitol building protesters, calling them “very special” and “great patriots”.
Certainly the way Trump is responding has only served to embolden the protesters and inflame the situation.
While there’s no doubt that some of the protesters were individual citizens, members of far-right extremist groups played an important, visible role in the riots. So who are the far-right rioters, and why are they so angry?
The Proud Boys are one of the significant groups driving the protests, known for using violence to achieve their political ends. They describe themselves as a men’s fraternity of “Western chauvinists”, but are effectively a white nationalist gang predicated on violence.
As Proud Boys founder Gavin McGuinnes described in 2017, to reach the highest level of the organisation’s hierarchy a member must “kick the crap out of an antifa” (anti-fascist).
However, the most direct antecedent to what we’re seeing today is the storming of the Michigan State House last month by armed men involved in militia groups and other Trump-supporting protesters.
The events in Michigan followed a series of tweets by Trump, one of which urged his followers to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in response to stay-at-home orders issued to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 infections.
The general appeal of groups like the Proud Boys is the retaliation to a perceived loss of white male supremacy and the erosion of privileges that were exclusively for the white man.
More specifically, in relation to what’s happening in Washington, their anger is fuelled by Trump’s claims of election fraud and a stolen election, including the baseless “Dominion” theory — a QAnon-related conspiracy about voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems involving Hugo Chavez and George Soros.
There is a wide spectrum of messaging from Trump’s supporters in today’s riots in Washington and outside other statehouses around America, from the comparatively banal claims of election fraud to dangerously unhinged calls for violence.
But behind their anger is almost a perverse democratic sentiment. Many no doubt genuinely believe their democratic rights have been subverted by liberal elites and “traitor Republicans” who don’t buy into Trump’s messages.
And so along with anger, there is also a sense of fear: fear that American democracy has been overturned at the hands of their “opponents”, even as they themselves actively undermine liberal democratic values and institutions.
Already, conspiracy theories and misinformation about today’s protests are being widely disseminated online. In particular, the riots are being spun as a “false flag”, with claims the rioters were actually antifascist provocateurs wanting to make Trump look bad.
Crucially, this isn’t just fringe internet conspiracy, but one being pushed by people with institutional clout. For example, Lin Wood, an attorney who until recently was embedded in Trump’s legal team, has spread this particular theory on Twitter, while alternative news outlets such as Newsmax repeated this line in their live coverage of the protest.
Misinformation plays a huge role in garnering extremist right wing views, and is being distributed widely across Facebook and other social media, as well as in mainstream press. And it’s not only in the US. Sky News in Australia, to give a local example, has been repeating without any clarification Trump’s lies of election fraud.
Unfortunately, tech companies have shown they’re unwilling to address this tidal wave of misinformation in a meaningful way.
Twitter will now slap a warning on a Trump post, and recently suspended his account for 12 hours — a temporary move followed by Facebook and Instagram. But countless white supremacists are still on there. For example, American white supremacist and founding figure of the “alt-right” Richard Spencer is still active on Twitter.
This a real danger, not only for the US, but for liberal democracies around the world, as misinformation continues to erode trust in institutions and stoke violent action.
To start, news and social media outlets must begin to take misinformation and hateful and extremist content seriously. This could be through more serious investment in content moderation for social media platforms, and refusing to uncritically publish patently false information, such as claims of voter fraud, for news media.
Similarly, a president who refuses to endorse organised white supremacists or conspiracy communities like QAnon would help reduce their legitimacy. As long as Trump continues speak of a “stolen election” and “very fine people”, the far right will feel validated in their violent actions and words.
While it is important security agencies take the very real threat of far-right violence seriously, we should look to other approaches to address and disrupt the far right beyond policing.
In Germany, for example, there has been some success with intervention at the interpersonal level. Educating role models for young people such as teachers and sports coaches to act as circuit breakers in the radicalisation process will help stem the flow of new recruits.
Young people are often targeted by far-right groups for recruitment. So role models like teachers are given skills to identify early signs of radicalisation, such as certain symbols or even fashion brands. They can engage with an individual who may be on the precipice of extremism, and offer them another path.
Given the very real danger posed by the far right, there needs to be a more rigorous approach to combating the allure of far-right extremist misinformation.
Amid the chaos in the US Capitol, stoked largely by rhetoric from President Donald Trump, Twitter has locked his account, with 88.7 million followers, for 12 hours.
Facebook and Instagram quickly followed suit, locking Trump’s accounts — with 35.2 million followers and 24.5 million, respectively — for at least two weeks, the remainder of his presidency. This ban was extended from 24 hours.
The locks are the latest effort by social media platforms to clamp down on Trump’s misinformation and baseless claims of election fraud.
They came after Twitter labelled a video posted by Trump and said it posed a “risk of violence”. Twitter removed users’ ability to retweet, like or comment on the post — the first time this has been done.
In the video, Trump told the agitators at the Capitol to go home, but at the same time called them “very special” and said he loved them for disrupting the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
That tweet has since been taken down for “repeated and severe violations” of Twitter’s civic integrity policy. YouTube and Facebook have also removed copies of the video.
But as people across the world scramble to make sense of what’s going on, one thing stands out: the events that transpired today were not unexpected.
Given the lack of regulation and responsibility shown by platforms over the past few years, it’s fair to say the writing was on the wall.
While Trump is no stranger to contentious and even racist remarks on social media, Twitter’s action to lock the president’s account is a first.
The line was arguably crossed by Trump’s implicit incitement of violence and disorder within the halls of the US Capitol itself.
Nevertheless, it would have been a difficult decision for Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram), with several factors at play. Some of these are short-term, such as the immediate potential for further violence.
Then there’s the question of whether tighter regulation could further incite rioting Trump supporters by feeding into their theories claiming the existence of a large-scale “deep state” plot against the president. It’s possible.
But a longer-term consideration — and perhaps one at the forefront of the platforms’ priorities — is how these actions will affect their value as commercial assets.
I believe the platforms’ biggest concern is their own bottom line. They are commercial companies legally obliged to pursue profits for shareholders. Commercial imperatives and user engagement are at the forefront of their decisions.
What happens when you censor a Republican president? You can lose a huge chunk of your conservative user base, or upset your shareholders.
Despite what we think of them, or how we might use them, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube aren’t set up in the public interest.
For them, it’s risky to censor a head of state when they know that content is profitable. Doing it involves a complex risk calculus — with priorities being shareholders, the companies’ market value and their reputation.
The platforms’ decisions to not only force the removal of several of Trump’s posts but also to lock his accounts carries enormous potential loss of revenue. It’s a major and irreversible step.
And they are now forced to keep a close eye on one another. If one appears too “strict” in its censorship, it may attract criticism and lose user engagement and ultimately profit. At the same time, if platforms are too loose with their content regulation, they must weather the storm of public critique.
You don’t want to be the last organisation to make the tough decision, but you don’t necessarily want to be the first, either — because then you’re the “trial balloon” who volunteered to potentially harm the bottom line.
For all major platforms, the past few years have presented high stakes. Yet there have been plenty of opportunities to stop the situation snowballing to where it is now.
The storming of the Capitol is a logical consequence of what has arguably been a long time coming.
The coronavirus pandemic illustrated this. While Trump was partially censored by Twitter and Facebook for misinformation, the platforms failed to take lasting action to deal with the issue at its core.
In the past, platforms have cited constitutional reasons to justify not censoring politicians. They have claimed a civic duty to give elected officials an unfiltered voice.
This line of argument should have ended with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, when Trump responded to the killing of an anti-fascism protester by claiming there were “very fine people on both sides”.
While there’s no silver bullet for online misinformation and extremist content, there’s also no doubt platforms could have done more in the past that may have prevented the scenes witnessed in Washington DC.
In a crisis, there’s a rush to make sense of everything. But we need only look at what led us to this point. Experts on disinformation have been crying out for platforms to do more to combat disinformation and its growing domestic roots.
Now, in 2021, extremists such as neo-Nazis and QAnon believers no longer have to lurk in the depths of online forums or commit lone acts of violence. Instead, they can violently storm the Capitol.
It would be a cardinal error to not appraise the severity and importance of the neglect that led us here. In some ways, perhaps that’s the biggest lesson we can learn.
This article has been updated to reflect the news that Facebook and Instagram extended their 24-hour ban on President Trump’s accounts.
History took place in the United States today.
Two Democrats were announced the winners of the run-off elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats, allowing the Democrats to take back control of the chamber from the Republicans.
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were the first Democrats to win a Georgia Senate race in a quarter of a century. It also marked the first time since Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1932 that a president lost a re-election campaign and both chambers of Congress in a single term.
And thousands more people died from COVID-19, as the US continues to notch some of its highest single day death tolls since the pandemic began.
But today will be most remembered for something else entirely: the first attack on the US Capitol since the War of 1812 against the British.
Many warned that President Donald Trump’s violent and divisive rhetoric was inevitably going to lead to violence, though few would have predicted the Capitol itself would be overrun.
Today’s violence will remain a shocking moment for generations of Americans. Trump’s own former defence secretary, James Mattis, invoked the language of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to say that the political leaders who enabled the violence will “will live in infamy”.
As Democrats prepare to take control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, their attention must be focused on how to address the divisiveness and extreme partisanship that has become rooted in the US, allowing such a dramatic assault on democracy to take place.
Hoover’s landslide election loss to Roosevelt in 1932 similarly gave the Democrats control of the White House and Congress. The Democrats used this opportunity to launch the New Deal — a series of government programs and initiatives intended to lift the US out of the Great Depression. It was unprecedented in its size and ambition.
Many of these programs — ranging from Social Security (a government safety net for elderly Americans) to government regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — were later expanded upon and continue through to today.
Unlike Roosevelt and his fellow Democrats in 1932, however, Joe Biden and his Democratic colleagues did not win landslide elections in 2020.
In fact, while Biden’s 306 Electoral College votes matched the total won by Trump in 2016, his pathway to victory was smaller.
Trump’s 2016 victory came from a combined 77,000 votes in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden’s 2020 win came as a result of a combined 45,000 votes in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin.
Similarly, the Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia did not win in landslides, either. And with the Senate now evenly divided by the parties, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will spend a lot of time breaking 50-50 ties of her former colleagues in the chamber.
And beyond the White House and Senate, the Democrats actually lost, on balance, a total of 10 seats to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, thereby slimming their majority to only four seats.
But there are still clear advantages for the Democrats taking control of the Senate.
With Republicans no longer controlling when, or even if, votes occur in the Senate, everything from Supreme Court justices and Cabinet appointments to major pieces of legislation will no longer be contingent on Republican Mitch McConnell, the outgoing Senate majority leader.
In such a narrowly divided chamber, though, the onus will be on the Biden administration not to lose a single Democrat.
In many ways, the most powerful position in the Senate switches from McConnell to Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two most conservative Democratic senators. They will likely prove to be the limits as to just how progressive a Biden agenda will be.
The Biden administration will need to get approval from a “large tent” of Democrats, including Manchin and Sinema, as well as progressives like Elizabeth Warren and the independent Bernie Sanders.
Ultimately, this slim hold on power will remain a hallmark of at least the first two years of the Biden administration.
That doesn’t, however, mean it will necessarily be divisive. In coming to the White House with more Washington experience than probably any other president in US history, Biden will need to prove that decades of experience as a “Washington insider” actually helps.
Even before the Georgia races were called in the Democrats’ favour,
Merrick Garland was tipped to be Biden’s choice for attorney general. Following four years of Trump’s blatant attempts to politicise the Department of Justice, no attorney general selection has been as consequential in decades.
This is particularly pertinent because Biden has vowed to restore the Justice Department’s independence, which would prove crucial if it faces public pressure to investigate the actions of the prior administration.
Garland is not only President Barack Obama’s former Supreme Court nominee, whom McConnell famously refused to allow a vote on. He’s also a circuit judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, one of the most consequential courts in the country.
It was the fact Biden can now replace Garland’s seat on this powerful bench with another Democrat — thanks to Democratic control of the Senate – that gave him the opportunity to make the selection.
Derisively labelled by some a political “weather vane”, Biden is not known to be a particularly ideological politician. Unlike most other presidents, he was not elected with a well-known ideological or political slogans focused on the future (for example, “Build the wall”, “Yes, we can” or “It’s the economy, stupid”).
Instead, Biden’s most well-known 2020 slogan, “Restoring the soul of America”, seemed to herald a return to prior years.
While many Americans may be pining for more normalcy, Biden has already seemed to acknowledge that doing so would not address the root causes of the sort of mayhem that occurred on Capitol Hill.
The most pressing priorities, as defined by the Biden administration, are COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change.
Taking control of the Senate, as well as the unprecedented unrest in Washington, will both widen the scope and redouble the urgency of the Biden team’s plans for addressing these issues.
But we shouldn’t expect a progressive revolution: the president-elect’s moderate tendencies are unwavering and unlikely to leave him simply because of Democrats eked out wins in Georgia. With that said, when the political spectrum has become stretched beyond conventional recognition, such moderation can often appear to be radical.
After weeks of President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about voter fraud and other improprieties costing him the presidential election, Washington erupted in chaos today as his supporters stormed the Capitol during a joint session of Congress to certify the results.
While shocking to watch, in hindsight, today’s riots feel almost inevitable.
Trump has spent weeks insisting the election was stolen, with very little push-back from the Republican Party. There have been some notable people who have challenged him, but even while this riot was going on, there were more than 100 Republican lawmakers trying to block certification of the election. This has been a highly opportunistic process on the part of Republican legislators.
For Trump, this is the whole game; at this point, it seems there is nothing else he cares about. He is desperately trying to hang on to power.
Amid all of this, it was inevitable at least some Americans would take the word of their current president very seriously. Having fired them up in this way, it becomes much harder to control mob behaviour. His belated tweet telling protesters to go home and go in peace (now removed by Twitter) was far too little, too late.
Looking at some of these images coming in from Washington, there is almost an element of “cosplay” (“costume play”). A lot of the rioters were dressed up in bizarre paraphernalia. On some level, I think they know they can’t actually seize power. There’s almost this carnival element to it of these people delighting in causing complete chaos.
Whether it’s Trump or his rioting supporters, if they can’t get their own way, if they can’t win, they’ll just create as much chaos as possible and revel in the absurdity of it.
Another thing that’s very obvious is these protesters didn’t fear the police. They were able to push their way past the police, they were able to force entry into the Capitol building and they’re then making jokes with reporters. They believed the police would not retaliate against them fatally — although four people died, including one woman who was shot by police.
The contrast with the Black Lives Matter protests is striking. A Black Lives Matter protest would never have been allowed to get that close to the Capitol. These are people acting with all kinds of impunity.
In storming the Capitol and trying to stop a legitimate process of certifying the election, the rioters are following the lead of Trump and many congressional Republicans. It’s been trend for a while for Republicans that if they lose an election, they do as much as possible to nullify the results.
This is not necessarily trying to overturn the result. But if you look at recent elections in North Carolina and Wisconsin where Democratic governors won, that was followed by Republicans in the legislatures stripping as much power as possible from the governorship.
This idea that an election is only legitimate if we win has been put into practice by Republican legislators across the country for quite a while now.
With Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November, there have been very few Republicans who have actually acknowledged this was the will of the people.
Part of that is because Trump’s victory four years ago was so unexpected, a lot of Republicans believe this was a new era in American politics. Part of that was the ability of Trump to win without actually winning the popular vote. Now that Biden has won, there’s a real unwillingness to acknowledge elections can still be lost legitimately by Republicans.
From the beginning, Kevin McCarthy, the number one Republican in the House of Representatives, was absolutely behind these ridiculous stolen election claims. He’s never backed away from them.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, let these things go on for weeks before he made the most minimal statement that the Electoral College has spoken. It is no surprise that McConnell was then completely unable to control Republicans in the Senate who wanted to contest the certification of the election results.
Republicans have learned the lesson that the way to get the most attention, the way to further your career, is to take the most pro-Trump stance possible. So, it was no surprise so many lawmakers would back this effort to block certification of the election. They’re raising money off this, they’re creating YouTube videos to show their supporters.
It’s become Trump’s party. A lot of people see the path to political advancement backing Trump at every point.
There were a lot of Republican legislators who hoped Trump would eventually give up. In the days after the election, some were saying we should let Trump play out his legal options, he will do the right thing eventually and he’ll step aside for the good of the nation.
But he was never, ever, ever going to step aside or concede. What he does is he just keeps people on board with him. Anyone who waits for Trump to do the right thing inevitably ends up supporting him when he does the wrong thing.
This is a lesson Republicans should have learned, but they’re scared of his supporters. None of them have supporters who would potentially risk their lives to storm the Capitol building.
There have been surprises in both the strengths and weaknesses of America’s institutions over the last few years. For example, federalism has turned out to be quite an effective check on presidential power when it’s been exercised by someone like Trump, which is perhaps not something Democrats would have necessarily believed before.
On the other hand, we’ve seen this massive erosion of norms, especially in Congress. This has been going on for quite a while and McConnell has been one of the major eroders of norms for a long time. Congress was never really an effective check on Trump.
Ultimately, after the election, it was local and state officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Aaron Van Langevelde, a member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, who said enough is enough when members of Congress weren’t doing it.
And despite the fact Trump has packed the federal courts and Supreme Court with conservative judges, none of his legal challenges went anywhere.
But in the end, the lesson is the most effective check is the election. It is the voice of the people. For every norm that Trump broke, for every anti-democratic thing he did, there was a bigger backlash.
We saw an election with one of the biggest turnouts in history. We had four years of pretty consistent protests in the streets. And in the end, this is the most important check on the presidency that there is.
The “team of rivals” was the term historian Doris Kearns Goodwin used to describe US President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. It included three men who had run against Lincoln for the Republican nomination for president in 1860: William Seward (secretary of state), Salmon Chase (treasury secretary) and Edward Bates (attorney general).
Appointing these strong-willed figures could have been disastrous were it not for Lincoln’s personal qualities.
Goodwin describes how Lincoln was willing to acknowledge when policies failed and change direction. He gathered facts on which to base decisions. He sought compromise but took full responsibility for his decisions, respected his colleagues and set an example of dignity. (In all these, he sounds like the antithesis of Donald Trump.)
President-elect Joe Biden has taken a different approach to filling out his cabinet so far. Aside from choosing Kamala Harris as his vice president, he’s looked past his main Democratic rivals for the nomination — Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders — and appointed mainly technical experts with relevant experience and an international outlook.
Biden may have seen these more technocratic appointments as fitting with his less partisan style. It also sends a signal to the world that the US wants to reengage.
Biden may not have filled his cabinet with rivals, but he has also not surrounded himself with clones or an “echo chamber”. He made clear he wanted his cabinet to
tell me what I need to know, not what I want to know.
As secretary of state, he has appointed Antony Blinken. A francophone internationalist, Blinken served as former President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state.
He once made a charming appearance on Sesame Street, telling Grover about the United Nations and refugees. He commented
we all have something to learn and gain from one another even when it doesn’t seem at first like we have much in common.
The message is a long way from “America first” and the disdain for the rest of the world shown by the Trump administration.
As treasury secretary, Biden has appointed Janet Yellen. She was chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014–18 and currently heads the American Economic Association. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz recalled her as one of his brightest students.
It is quite an achievement to be the most famous economist in a family that includes a Nobel Prize winner (her husband George Akerlof).
An advocate of free trade and expert in labour markets, she understands the damage that Trump’s trade wars, especially with China, have done to working Americans.
Being chair of the Federal Reserve also gave Yellen an important role in international organisations, such as the Bank for International Settlements.
His appointment signals that the Biden administration recognises the importance of recommitting the US to climate action. Most significantly, Kerry was highly influential in the final week of negotiations of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and signed it for the US the following year with his granddaughter on his lap.
And following four years of Trump’s anti-immigration policies, Biden has selected a Cuban-born immigrant, Alejandro Mayorkas, to lead the Department of Homeland Security. After his nomination, Mayorkas spoke of his desire
to advance our proud history as a country of welcome.
Biden has assembled a team with an international outlook that will re-commit the US to supporting international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, and treaties like the Paris Agreement. He will seek to reform rather than just impede the World Trade Organisation.
But there’s one significant hurdle still looming. If the Democrats can’t gain control of the Senate by winning the two run-off elections in Georgia in early January, the Republican-led chamber will likely aim to block Biden’s aims of resuming a constructive global role.
For example, Biden will be able to issue an executive order to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day as president. But major reforms to cut greenhouse gas emissions or his proposed $2 trillion clean energy plan would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Senate.
Optimists have compared Biden to former President Lyndon Johnson (also known as LBJ), who may be able to use his decades of legislative experience to achieve more change than was possible for John F. Kennedy or Obama.
Ron Klain, recently announced as Biden’s chief of staff, once put it well:
LBJ might not have been the wokest, coolest, hippest Democrat, but he’s the person who got the most actual progressive social justice legislation done since FDR […] he knew how to make the Senate work.
The rest of the world will hope Klain is right and that the Senate does not block the program of this promising new cabinet.
US President Donald Trump’s time in the White House is coming to an end. But, as has become obvious over the past few weeks, he is unlikely to deliver a gracious concession speech.
Instead, the president has spent much of his time since the November 3 election plotting ways to undo what has turned out to be a rather clear victory for President-elect Joe Biden — all credible media outlets have given Biden 306 electoral college votes to the outgoing president’s 232. The successful candidate needs to amass 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency.
Time is simply running out for Trump. By December 8, all states are required to certify their results, with the electors in each state to cast their votes by December 14. The inauguration of the next president takes place on January 20 2021.
None of this should obscure the anti-democratic coup d’état Trump is attempting as he refuses to concede defeat. However, it is unlikely to succeed.
His legal challenges alleging fraud and misconduct are close to running their course. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against his claim that election “observers” were too far away in Philadelphia from workers counting ballots. In Georgia, a hand recount has finished with Biden confirmed the victor. And Michigan lawmakers appear ready to defy the president, who now seems intent on wreaking havoc on the certification process.
Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election are real. His attempt to influence Republican state legislators, in effect to persuade them to replace electors committed to voting for Biden with electors ready to vote for Trump, is profoundly undemocratic. Under a winner-takes-all system, Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes should be going to President-elect Biden, the clear winner of the state by almost three percentage points.
If Trump had succeeded in overturning the results, one could go as far as questioning America’s status as a liberal democracy. Not since Southern secessionists contested the legitimacy of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 has a single actor been so nefarious in their attempts to undermine an incoming president.
Look no further than Trump’s actions on the transition. With over 250,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, and case numbers exploding around the country, one would think an orderly transition in which the incoming president is given access to experts knowledgeable about the country’s readiness for mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine would be an urgent and unquestioned priority.
But not in Trump’s White House. The General Services Administration, run by a political appointee of the president, must certify Biden as the winner before the incoming administration is given access to top public health officials.
Such certification will eventually take place, as the president simply runs out of options. We suspect he will grudgingly acknowledge he will not be president for the next four years, repeating a never-ending series of fabrications about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. His arguments will resonate with his “base” and will have consequences beyond this election cycle.
Analysis by the Pew Research Center finds:
While a 59% majority of all voters say elections in the United States were run and administered well, just 21% of Trump supporters have a positive view of how elections were administered nationally. Among Biden supporters, 94% say the elections were run and administered well.
The magnitude of these differences is stark and suggests Biden will have much work to do in bringing the country together — if indeed that is possible. Biden himself is attempting to restore moral leadership to a country torn apart by pandemic, racial division and illiberal tendencies in the executive branch of government.
Rhetorically, Biden has hit many of the right notes, emphasising themes of unity and national healing. How this will play out in a policy sense will be seen once he takes office.
Of course, Trump will continue to make life difficult for the incoming Biden administration. Some reports suggest he is already considering running for office in 2024.
So, it should not be surprising if the outgoing president leaves a number of surprises for President-elect Biden. Some press reports in the US are stating that on Middle East policy, trade with China, securing oil drilling leases in Alaska, and the Iran nuclear deal — which Biden may wish to rejoin — the Trump team is doing its best to reduce the incoming administration’s policy options.
Political theorist David Runciman argues that in democracies molehills are often made out of mountains. Vote counting, constantly updating vote tallies, failed legal challenges, recounts, the wearing effects of days of politics dominating life, Biden’s non-spectacular calmness, certification and the meeting of the Electoral College will turn this post-election mountain into a molehill as Trump’s attempted coup will eventually fail.
However, Trump has regularly shown us that, in the internet age, mountains can also be made out of molehills. The president’s lies and tweets have turned his presidency into a kind of reality TV show that has in turns transfixed, energised or horrified much of the world. Nevertheless, the show is in its final season and has not been renewed.
We are reminded of an article Rebecca Solnit wrote during the earliest days of the Trump presidency. In it, she presciently captures the predicament in which Trump now finds himself. Although his base and a large number of Republicans still support him, Trump has always surrounded himself with loyal followers reluctant to question their leader’s judgment and authority. This produces a form of isolation that is of Trump’s own making, a consequence of the man’s temperament and unwillingness to tolerate uncomfortable truths.
Reflecting on Trump-like leaders, Solnit explained:
In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures.
Of course, sooner or later Trump will realise the presidency must be vacated. He will have to face the one thing in his life he has always tried to avoid: defeat.
Joe Biden’s election as US president presents Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the opportunity to reset Australia’s ailing relationship with China. Encouragingly, Biden has signalled his commitment to rebuilding global alliances and restoring a degree of certainty in foreign policy.
In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden talked about an “inflection” moment in America’s history, the opportunity to take a different course.
Australian policymakers should, likewise, take advantage of the Biden victory to reassess China policy settings that, under present circumstances, are not serving the country’s interests.
Emphatically, this is not an argument for a quiescent China policy that disregards Beijing’s bad behavior. Rather, it is a case for more nimble policy-making in Australia’s own national interests.
China’s further stifling last week of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms by forcing the resignation of pro-democracy legislators is another sign of its disregard of international obligations under the “one country two systems” agreement that heralded the territory’s handover in 1997.
But whether we like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, whether China is a regional bully or not, Canberra needs to find a way to drag its relationship with Beijing out of the mire.
The Biden victory may facilitate this.
Canberra does not need to wait for a new American policy towards China to strive for a better balance between its foreign and trade policy interests and its security policy imperatives. Those efforts should begin now that the foreign policy deadweight of the Trump administration is being lifted.
The government has just signed a 15-nation regional trade deal that includes China, providing a potential avenue for improved relations. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is aimed at further liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific.
Australia’s economic well-being demands a reset.
In its clumsy fashion, Beijing has sought to ease frictions. In an editorial foreshadowing a Biden victory, the Global Times, China’s nationalist mouthpiece, made an interesting reference to Australia
When the US-China relationship is about to see some changes there may be also a window for adjustment to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia. Australia is likely to be under less political pressure from the USA on key issues with China, and whether the Morrison government will continue to play tough with China will largely steer Australia’s economic prospects.
On the face of it, this represents a possible break in the clouds. It will reflect views at senior Chinese government level.
Former Australian ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby had a point when he told the National Press Club that the China debate in Australia had been reduced to a binary argument between “sycophancy and hostility”. This stifles reasonable discussion of something in between. Raby said:
The main thing with diplomacy is not how loudly you speak but the outcomes you get.
He also made the sensible point that, for all the talk of alternative markets at a moment when China is restricting Australian exports, China will remain, for the foreseeable future, the world’s fastest-growing economy and dominant destination for Australian products.
Soaring iron ore prices in the first half of this year, as China sought to re-inflate an economy hit hard by the coronavirus, mask a slippage in Australian business with China more generally.
China’s economy is already springing back harder and faster from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic than its competitors.
The International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will grow by 8.2% in 2021 and account for about a quarter of global growth.
These are the realities that are sometimes pushed aside by threat obsession within the Canberra political establishment.
Morrison could do worse than review an Asialink speech he made soon after he was elected prime minister to remind himself of principles he laid down then for dealing with China, and which appear to have been honoured in the breach since.
Then he decried a “binary prism” through which conflict between the US and China was seen as inevitable. He also rejected what he called the “fatalism of increased polarisation”.
“Australia should not sit back and passively wait our fate in the wake of a major power contest,” he said, while extolling the virtues of “regional agency” in which Canberra sought to work more closely with its like-minded neighbours.
This was all sensible stuff.
However, Australia’s alignment with Trump’s chaotic “America First” foreign policy has overwhelmed talk of a Morrison doctrine that emphasises regional connections. In the process, global alliances have been trashed.
This in turn has tested Canberra’s ability to apply basic principles of statecraft by maximising its strengths and minimising its weaknesses in an era in which power balances are shifting.
In all of this, the national media have played a role in amplifying the views of those who would have you believe the country is under constant existential threat. Voices calling for a more measured approach to dealing with China have been drowned out.
A low point was reached this month when a government senator in a Senate committee demanded Chinese-Australians giving evidence about difficulties in a hostile environment were asked to denounce the Chinese Communist Party. This implied a “loyalty test”.
Clunky Australian interventions on critical issues such as Huawei and investigations into the origins of the novel coronavirus have facilitated China’s strategy of portraying Canberra as Washington’s handmaiden for its own self-serving reasons.
Australia’s conspicuous and injudicious lobbying of its Five Eyes partners to exclude Huawei from a buildout of their 5G networks caused more trouble than it was worth.
Morrison’s heavy-handed intervention – after a phone call with Trump – in presuming to appoint himself co-ordinator of a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19 added further to Chinese disquiet.
An inquiry under World Health Organisation auspices was going to take place anyway. Why Morrison took it upon himself to take the lead in instigating an inquiry at a particularly sensitive moment for China remains a mystery.
In their efforts to get a handle on the form Biden foreign policy might take, Morrison and his advisers could do worse than review the president-elect’s contribution to the journal Foreign Affairs in which he laid out his blueprint for American global leadership.
This is a comprehensive description of how Biden’s foreign policy might evolve in a world that has changed significantly since he served as vice president in the Obama White House. It also demonstrates that Biden would not be outflanked on China policy by his opponent.
His proposal for a global Summit for Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purposed of the nations of the free world” would be a welcome initiative.
Biden’s reference to how to meet the China challenge is worth noting.
The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to co-operate on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change.
This is the Biden carrot-and-stick formula. Too often in the recent past, the Morrison government has found itself aligned, whether it likes it or not, with the wrong end of the American stick.
Note: this article was updated on November 16 to take in the trade deal announcement.
Back in March, Joe Biden lamented “the international system that the United States so carefully constructed is coming apart at the seams”.
“As president,” he declared, “I will take immediate steps to renew US democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world.”
Among the closest allies of the US, none arguably has more at stake in Biden making good on his promises than Australia.
The international system Australia wants repaired is one defined by rules and consensus. As a middle-ranking power, it has long recognised its national interests are best protected by international agreements and the rule of law, rather than one in which might makes right.
At the heart of Australia’s desired international trade system are multilateral trade deals, rather than bilateral deals which tend to favour the stronger nation, and a strong international authority – namely the World Trade Organisation – to negotiate rules and adjudicate disputes.
Donald Trump’s presidency undermined both. His “America First”
polices were grounded in grievances about other nations playing the US for “suckers”. He obstructed the WTO, turned his back on multilateral deals and started trade wars.
A Biden presidency promises a return to multilateralism. But it remains to be seen how it approaches the WTO.
As president, Trump rapidly undid decades of mutilateral trade negotiations.
In his first week in office he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade deal intended to strengthen economic ties between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam and the US. (The agreement was modified and signed without the US as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.)
Trump’s trade war with China was also an exercise in power over principle. Both the escalating tariffs and the truce struck in January, known as the “Phase One Agreement”, repudiated established free-trade principles.
Along with commitments to reduce “structural barriers”, China is required to buy an extra US$200 billion in specified American goods and services over two years in return for the US cutting tariffs on $US110 billion in Chinese imports.
This worries Australian exporters.
The US shopping list for China includes more American seafood, grain, wine, fruit, meat and energy – all markets in which Australia is a significant exporter to China. As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd asked at the time the deal was signed:
How can the US pursue another $US32 billion of American beef, wheat, cotton and seafood – all listed in the agreement – without Australian exporters becoming collateral damage?
The deal, as the Minerals Council of Australia rightly noted, undermined “the principles of free trade which have underpinned Australia’s bipartisan approach to trade policy for many decades”.
The Trump administration has also continued the slow strangulation of the World Trade Organisation, on the grounds it doesn’t serve American interests.
The US has blocked every recent appointment and reappointment to the WTO’s Appellate Body, which hears appeals to WTO adjudications. Appointments require the agreement of all of the WTO’s 164 member nations, and the Appellate Body requires three judges to hear appeals. US obstruction reduced the number of judges to just one by December 2019, meaning it simply cannot function.
It’s important to note that US antagonism to the WTO predated Trump. The Obama administration also blocked appointments it considered would not sufficiently represent US preferences. But the Trump administration certainly upped the obstructionism.
Indeed, just days before the 2020 election it blocked the appointment of former Nigerian finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organisation. A highly regarded development economist with a 25-year career at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala is widely considered to be an outstanding candidate to lead the WTO. The United States stood alone in objecting to her appointment.
Dropping opposition to Okonjo-Iweala and other appointments so the WTO’s processes can function would be an important symbolic and practical first step for Biden. It would reassure Australia and others that global rules still matter.
How quickly, and on what terms, Biden returns the US to multilateralism remains to be seen.
He has acknowledged the importance of deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to ensure an increasingly powerful China “doesn’t write the rules of the road for the world”. But he has also pledged to not enter any more international agreements “until we have made major investments in our workers and infrastructure”.
For Australia – and other US allies – it is important that the US return to the multilateral negotiating table sooner rather than later. For global stability, long-term interests need to override the temptation of short-term expediency.
For “America to lead again” there’s a long and difficult diplomatic road ahead. The international trade system and the WTO are not perfect, but a world without rules would be far worse.
With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.
While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.
If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.
Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.
The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.
Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.
Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.
This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.
Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.
Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.
New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.
Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.
After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.
A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.
While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.
In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.
Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.
Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.
In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).
A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.